This month is age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and low vision awareness month. AMD is the leading source of vision loss for seniors. Macular degeneration often leads to low vision, a term optometrists use to describe significant vision loss that is also known as “legal blindness” or almost total blindness. In the case of macular degeneration, a degenerative eye disease, damage occurs to the macula, the part of the retina which enables sharp central vision. AMD causes a blurring of the central vision zone, but usually leaves peripheral vision intact.
Vision loss due to AMD is usually progressive but on occasion disruptions in vision can be sudden. Early signs of low vision from AMD include blurred areas in your central visual field or unusually fuzzy sight. While there is currently no cure for AMD, early detection and treatment is known to stop progression of the disease and therefore avoid low vision. For individuals who have already lost acuity, a normal life can be maintained with low-vision rehabilitation.
Those with greater risk factors of AMD include seniors, females, Caucasians and people with light eye color, severe hyperopia (farsightedness) or family members with the disease. Risk factors that can be minimized include smoking, hypertension, exposure to UV light and obesity. Proper exercise and nutrition including certain nutrients has been linked to prevention.
Those who are living with low vision should consult with their eye care professional about low vision rehabilitation and special devices that can facilitate a return to daily activities. After a proper examination, a low vision expert can suggest appropriate low vision devices such as reading telescopes and non-optical adaptive devices such as electronic ''talking'' clocks and large-face printed material.
While macular degeneration is more likely in those over age 65, anyone can be affected and therefore it is important for everyone to schedule a regular eye exam to determine eye health and learn about ways to prevent AMD and low vision.